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How suite it is: Producer meets David Cassidy halfway and records the singer's vocals in his hotel room

March 15, 2007
By Mark Wyckoff
Ventura County Star

"Where's your gear?"

David Cassidy's tone was decidely dubious as he surveyed producer Craig J, who was clutching just two bags as he stood in the doorway of Cassidy's hotel suite at the Mohegan Sun casino resort in Connecticut.

"Worry not, my friend," Craig J reassured Cassidy. "All will be well."

It was November and Cassidy was at the Mohegan producing, directing and starring in his ring-a-ding revue "The Rat Pack is Back!" Craig J was there because time was running out to finish recording Cassidy's vocals for "Part. II — The Remix." The CD, a pop-dance hybrid in which Craig J gives Cassidy's '70s hits a club-conscious sonic makeover, was coming out Feb. 25 as part of retail giant Target's new Spotlight Series on the 180 Music label.

To make that release date, Craig J arrived at Cassidy's Mohegan doorstep with a duffel bag and a messenger bag. Cassidy, used to recording in high-tech rooms at Capitol and RCA, was understandably wary as he watched Craig J quickly convert his suite into a recording studio.

The producer, who has remixed nearly 20 No. 1 hits on Billboard's dance chart for such artists as Madonna, Beyoncé and Kelly Clarkson, pulled the drapes shut to keep the sound in and set up a Lawson vocal microphone just behind the couch. The makeshift studio's nerve center, a MacBook hooked up to an Mbox Pro audio interface and an external hard drive, was placed on the dining room table just a few feet to the right of the mic.

When all systems were go, Cassidy pulled a chair up to the mic, sat down on the edge of the seat, closed his eyes and sang "Cherish," his first Top 10 solo hit from 1972. The first playback was all it took for Cassidy to gain complete faith in Craig J's portable setup.

Over the next six days, the pair recorded the CD's final five vocals, with Cassidy singing to instrumental tracks recorded in September in Hollywood with Calabasas producer Peter Bunetta Those backing tracks, which mirrored the original '70s arrangements, were jettisoned when Craig J began the remix process.

His mission, Craig J said, was to bring Cassidy's songs "into my world." On "Part. II — The Remix," he doesn't just put a dance-groove gloss on the songs, he deconstructs them, rebuilds them and thoroughly reinvigorates them, adding new beats, melodies and harmonies. It's not the all-new studio album that longtime fans are craving, but it's a far sight more interesting than yet another greatest hits rehash.

In Craig J's hands, "Cherish" emerges as a percolating chill-out ballad; Cassidy's plaintive, self-penned "Ricky's Tune" gets transformed into a swirling slice of Beatlesque psychedelia; and the Top 10 Partridge Family hit "I'll Meet You Halfway" is given a gospel-style house treatment.

"Halfway" was the first track Craig J let Cassidy listen to.

"I was freaking out, thinking ‘He hates it,'" Craig J said. "Then he starts tapping his feet and moving his head and I'm like, ‘Oh, maybe he likes it a little bit.' Then he starts turning red and I'm like, ‘Oh, he must hate something.' Then he's really starting to get into it at the end and I'm like, ‘Oh, maybe he does like it.' He took his headphones off at the end and said, ‘Wow. That kicks my ass. I have to hear that again. I love that.'"

It was the song's lyrics, penned by Wes Farrell and Gerry Goffin, that inspired Craig J to give "Halfway" a gospel groove.

"It's about a person in transition and that transition could be spiritual or it could be as part of a relationship," he said. "You could almost interpret it as a conversation with God. And so for me, as a composer, I wanted to score the song using those emotions as colors. I also wanted to score the song so it aligned with David. As I got to know him, I found out he's got a serious love for old R&B. So I took that track, sped up his vocal, tweaked it a little bit and then brought in these fabulous gospel/R&B singers that I work with to sing behind him."

"Halfway" cooks, but "Could It Be Forever" and "Echo Valley 2-6809" are better. Both were recorded in the wee small hours, when Cassidy was back in his hotel room after "Rat Pack" performances. Craig J managed to capture the edgy ache of Cassidy's voice, which too often gets smoothed out in recordings.

"I wanted ‘Could It Be Forever' to be really vibey, like it was 3 in the morning and he was pondering," Craig J said. "The way his voice sounded on it was really wicked. It was one of his grittier performances. I loved that sound."

Not as successful, surprisingly, is the Partridge anthem "I Think I Love You"; both the arrangement and Cassidy's vocals sound flat and pedestrian. Craig J may simply have lost his perspective on the song; he admits he spent more than two months trying to nail it. In comparison, the vibrant "Cherish" only took a day and a half. Weak, too, is "C'mon Get Happy"; despite a pounding piano riff reminiscent of "Lady Madonna," the track never gels.

More to come?

Craig J will get a second shot at "I Think I Love You"; he's about to begin crafting a seven-minute mix of the song that will be sent out to club DJs across the country. He's also in talks to join Cassidy for a few concerts so the remixes can be heard live, but that won't happen until well after Cassidy's gig Saturday at La Mirada Theatre in La Mirada.

If the chance came up, Craig J said he'd love to record another album with Cassidy. When it's suggested the pair try putting a contemporary spin on "Rat Pack"-era material, Craig J picks up on the concept immediately, noting he recently did a mash-up of Dean Martin's ‘Sittin' On Top of the World' just for kicks.

"If I had the budget, I'd record David singing live with a big band and then I'd press that onto vinyl so it sounds like an old record," Craig J said. "Then I'd take that and drop it into my world, adding lots of club beats and filters. That would be fierce."